|VeggieTales - Lord of the Beans|
|Written by Dan MacIntosh|
|Tuesday, 01 November 2005|
With “Lord of the Beans,” the VeggieTales people appear to have run out of original ideas. This animated series, which started out by telling Bible stories with vegetable-themed characters, is beginning to look more like a blockbuster movie parody machine instead. If it isn’t careful, Big Idea could turn into a second-rate Mad Magazine – albeit with morals and without the naughty bits. Its prior release, “Minnesota Cuke,” hinted at this company’s dwindling creative juices with its relatively lame “Raiders of the Lost Ark” take-off. But the humor and story well is almost completely dry here, and that’s a sad thing.
In case you haven’t guessed it yet, “Lord of the Beans” is a rather un-clever retelling of “The Lord of the Rings” saga. Instead of building its story around a magic ring, this tale substitutes magical beans. Its plot follows a Flobbit (not a hobbit) named Toto Baggypants, who is “played” by VeggieTales regular Junior Asparagus. It is his job to figure out how to best use the supernatural bean given to him by his Uncle Billboy, who is played by Archibald Asparagus. This bean’s power is analogous to the various human talents God gives all of us. Similarly, it is then left up to us to wisely use our God-given talents.
Prior to his adventurous journey, Toto learns that there were once actually four other magic beans in existence before his genie-beanie arrived. The first one could grow any food, the second one could change your looks, the third one could make clothing, while the last one – for a touch of silliness -- had the power to create small kitchen appliances. Toto’s friend Randolph tells him that he needs to put his bean in the fire in order to read its special inscription. The first time Toto attempts this trick, it reads, “If you can read this, you’re too close.” Randolph then tells him to turn it over, and on the other side it simply says, “Use wisely.”
Before long, Toto is away on his quest, where he is also joined by a few merry men. These fellow travelers include the brave ranger Ear-A-Corn, marksman elf Leg-O-Lamb, and the always-complaining Grumpy. This band forms what is called – surprise, surprise – the Fellowship of the Bean. Each member of this special team has unique characteristics. Grumpy, in addition to his rather unhappy demeanor, also thinks about feeding his face constantly. If he’s not asking for waffles, for instance, he’s trying to tempt Toto into turning his magic bean into a bean burrito, instead – and making this tortilla delight with plenty of guacamole. There’s also one other elf, who is known appropriately enough as the “Other Elf.” He, we’re told, is good in the kitchen.
This story’s journey leads these mobile dinner entrées through such strange locales as the Mountains of Much Snowia and into the midst of the Elders of the Razzberry Forest, before they ultimately pass through the Blue Gate, which lands them to the woebegone Land of Woe.
While the Mountains of Much Snowia are chilly, but not funny, the Razzberry Forrest scene is quite a hoot. Before arriving within this forested imaginary region, these travelers are warned not to laugh or smile while they are there, because these serious trees have long since lost their sense of humor. But because they talk so funny, and make that raspberry sound with the tongues in their mouths, our heroes just can’t help but chuckle at them. This leads them to detention, where even a big eagle (a rare non-vegetable VeggieTale character) refuses to rescue them. Once they eventually get free, however, Toto befriends a man named Ahem (so named after that sound you make when you clear your throat). This throat noise of a man then tells Toto his life story. He, too, once had the bean all to himself, but because this special wishing vegetable granted him anything he desired, it proceeded to make him lazy as well, and eventually led him to the Land of Woe.
When our questing crew finally reaches the Land of Woe, it is visually introduced to us as a dry and barren place. While the Fellowship is here, Billboy Baggypants returns and saves Toto and the gang from the Dark Lord Scarryman, who rules it. It’s also here in this most woeful of lands that Baggypants explains to Toto how he’s since discovered the true meaning of happiness, which is in helping others. Baggypants, too, had foolishly used the magic bean merely to acquire material possessions. It was only after he’d given away the bean that he discovered the joys of helpfulness and generosity. Next, Toto has a revelation that it is his destiny to help these Land of Woe folks, so he drops his bean into their dry well, which makes it spring up with water and turn the land a beautiful green.
As with every VeggieTales story, this one also includes a silly song by Larry. This time, Larry sings his tune dressed and sounding like Elvis, but calling himself an elf. While he’s singing this song, by the way, a female singer joins in with him now and again, singing in an unknown tongue. Her words are accompanied by subtitles. The music itself is rockabilly, along with a jazzy, crazy drum part.
The biggest problem with “Lord of the Beans” is its trite story. We never learn nearly enough about Toto’s life to really appreciate it when he eventually discovers his true calling. But many past VeggieTales stories have also had similar storyline deficiencies, yet made up for these with an abundance of humor. However, the jokes in this one are either too obvious or just not especially funny at all. Those familiar with the real “Lord of the Rings” trilogy – which is not something I know well – may get a few more of the jokes than I did. But one imagines that the age group this DVD is aimed at is way too young for the intense “Lord of the Rings” films. It’s likely that these jokes will sail over their heads as well.
It is admirable to use our gifts for good, not evil, but this point could have been driven home much more entertainingly than the way it is presented here. Might it be time for the Big Idea folks to take a break for a while? Obviously, sabbaticals are hard to do with large franchises like VeggieTales. But “Lord of the Beans,” although it may still be worth far more than a hill of beans, doesn’t stand up well next to the wonderful series of films that came before it.